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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


20 October 2013

3 Ways We’re Wrong About Dogs

Hi Mia!

Very excited to see that the program for the Working Dog Alliance Conference is out! I love conference programs. I think I’m a visual learner because when I try and remember back to a talk, I remember that the talk abstract appeared in
say, a blue booklet, and that the abstract was on the right side of the page. Or maybe that has nothing to do with being a visual learner and means something entirely different. Anyway...

I wish I could attend the entire working dog conference (damn you ocean!), but I do have some favorite talks that I'm sad to miss. I’m particularly interested in "Racing to retirement, is there a better way?", "Characterizing Dogmanship" as well as Steve White and Nicola Rooney’s talks.

You and I are trading places again. It almost time to change the clocks, and it’s getting darker here earlier and earlier. DAMN YOU WINTER!! 

On a happier note, I’m looking forward to speaking at the Association of Professional Dog Trainers next weekend in Spokane, Washington (#APDT2013)!

I’m covering two topics, and summaries are available here:
  • Contextualizing Canine Behavior and Cognition Research 
  • The Science and Politics of Anthropomorphism
At the last two APDT conferences, I presented posters of my personal research, and I’m looking forward to giving more comprehensive talks this year. 

While preparing for the conference, I found myself remembering that humans are often not spot-on in our interpretation of all things dog.

3 Misconceptions About Dogs

1) Working Dogs Have Good Welfare
I imagine when people hear the term 'working dog' they picture accomplished dogs of war jumping out of planes or sniffing out chemical weapons. Or, people might picture guide dogs for the blind or hearing dogs for the deaf. But those are only the "stars" or "headliners" of the working dog world; working dogs include so many different dogs doing so many things for us and with us

Good welfare is not explicitly bound to certain types of canine work and absent from others. And good welfare cannot simply be assumed because dogs are performing a particular job.

This reminds me of an earlier post you wrote -- "The Heat(map) is On: Colours of Canine Welfare." You discussed peoples' perceptions of the welfare of different types of dogs. Perceptions and realities are both important, and I'm happy to see industry and science coming together to better the lives of working dogs.
(Greyhound at her new job: Source)

As I mentioned, greyhounds hold a special place in my heart. Whenever I see one on the street, I always wonder, “Where did you come from, big friend? What has your life been like?” They never answer, but sometimes their owner fills me in on the details.

2) Separation Distress is Just a Dog Missing its Owner

Research into why dogs show destructive and problematic behavior when owners are out is growing. Motivations are many and could include "fear, anxiety, over-attachment, agitation from outside stimulation and/or lack of appropriate stimulation." 

Mark Evans is a veterinary surgeon and former chief veterinary advisor of the RSPCA in the UK. He now holds informative animal-focused TV shows. For his recent program, he teamed up with Dr. Rachel Casey from the University of Bristol to examine the behavior of 40 dogs when their owners were out of the house. See what they found here, and they've also highlighted the progress of three dogs: Bruno, Oscar and Max.

Recently, Parthasarathy et al. (2006) examined whether “dysfunctional” attachment styles to owners were related to dog separation issues. They concluded that “separation anxiety is not based on ‘hyperattachment’ of the dog to the owner...” Although they did add that “different attachment style may be present between dogs with and without separation anxiety.” 

Blanket assumptions about why dogs are distressed in owners’ absences aren't helpful. Each dog needs to be considered on its own terms.

3) Canine Behavior & Cognition Research Has ALL the Answers! ;) 
This is a direct plug for my first talk at the APDT conference in Spokane next week, "Contextualizing Canine Behavior and Cognition Research."

Science is a way of looking at the world that prioritizes asking questions and devising ways to investigate those questions. This field of study is relatively young. It is continually growing and evolving. Studies build on one another, and in some cases, substantiate earlier findings, and in other cases, not so much. At my talk next Sunday, October 27 (at 8:00 AM!), I'll highlight the idea that our field is best viewed as an evolving process.

That's me in a nut shell!

Looking forward to more welfare news!


Horowitz, D. 2010 Separation anxiety in dogs. Veterinary Focus. 20(1), 18-26.

Parthasarathy et al.  2006. Relationship between attachment to owners and separation anxiety in pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 1, 109–120. 
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